Resurrection or rebirth? The new Ghostbusters: Afterlife film makes it quite hard to distinguish whether this franchise has entered a new era of life or death. There are fundamentally two directions a franchise like this can go in nowadays; the direction of mass appeal or the direction of purist appeal. Mass appeal being of course where you simplify the franchise in a way that makes it accessible as possible to newcomers. Purist appeal being that you attempt to create a faithful followup to the narrative without trying to ride its wave of popularity, but rather, expand upon it; at the risk of boring or confusing a newer or unfamiliar audience. The writers here try to do a little bit of both… but is it successful?
Well, much like the follow-ups that came before it, there isn’t anything significantly substantial to talk about with Ghostbusters: Afterlife. We are introduced to a gaggle of new faces; in this instance, the film follows the story of a struggling family moving to a small rural town with a strange history. Afterlife largely follow the exploits of Phoebe (Mckenna Grace), a clever young girl with a hankering for tinkering, alongside her is her brother Trevor (Finn Wolfhard), a kid more focussed on girls than ghosts; and the unreliable matriarch of the family, Callie (Carrie Coon), their mother whose ability at balancing a checkbook is as mysterious as spectral beings themselves. Along the way we meet several ghosts, two comedic relief characters, and a James Charles lookalike villain.
The somewhat oddball character roundups are the bread and butter of what makes this story something worth sitting back and taking in. This is a largely pleasant viewing experience with these characters in the story and would likely be an unpleasant one without them. This says a lot about where the focus lies in this soft reboot, that being, character. Not the comedy, not the raw nostalgia, but plain and simple, the basic beats of making characters enjoyable to watch on-screen. Of course, nothing transcendental is happening here, but these are largely, fun characters. I feel it’s important to really dial in the importance of that.
Thankfully, Ghostbusters: Afterlife doesn’t enter the dark realm of reboots; the place where franchises get wiped clean and begin again with new (and nowhere near as good) versions of its classic characters. I’m not naming names here, no seriously, I’m not – I have no major issues with the 2016 reboot. However, I do believe some trepidation is entirely reasonable, considering every IP nowadays is seemingly lined up for the chopping block. Now, in spite of all this, Ghostbusters: Afterlife does deliver something worthwhile, proving it can still breathe at least a few genuine breaths of air that it can call its own. Which is more than can be said for comparable flicks. There are laughs here, smiles there, some genuinely fun moments that make you momentarily reminisce of those older 80’s flicks. But those moments aren’t sustained for very long.
Afterlife doesn’t need to do anything otherworldly, it’d be insane to think it does; heck, the original flick is, at best, a moderately fun film. If anything, those who expect true greatness from a Ghostbusters followup flick have simply been allured by the branding that this franchise was ever anything more than goofs and gafs. To expect anything more than that is to fall for intentionally corny marketing that even the films themselves mock; who you gonna call?
Visually Ghostbusters: Afterlife doesn’t offer anything new or interesting to elevate this iconic franchise. However what it does do is honour the franchise’s past by embracing the visual aesthetic of the original films. A perfect example of this is by including a ghost called Muncher, an odd looking creature who is clearly inspired by Slimer from the original 1984 film. Again this film offers nothing new in terms of visuals for this franchise, but insteads leans more towards the modern day classic of rebooted films. The entire third act is largely CGI and the main villain has a painfully distinctive video game aesthetic.
The visual designers took time to tease the film’s most emotional moment by including subtle cues to build toward it. The mysterious character teases themselves by the movement of set pieces. This is as simple as a movement of a Prawn or Knight on a chess board to an illuminated lamp directing the films main actor to the clues of Summerville’s treat that looms. This is all built up to the films climax where the hardcore fans of Ghostbusters (1984) will be pleased and tug on the heart strings. What is notoriously known as the dirt farmer house throughout the film is just that visually, the house itself is literally covered in dust while the ‘secret’ room is cleaner than the actual house itself. This further enhances the tales of Summervilles citizens as the mad man who resides within the dusty house. While Rob Simonesen delivers a rather generic and unforgettable musical score throughout the film, the one thing he does get right is not falling into the typical reboot trope. It’s a no-brainer that when a reboot of a classic movie is made that the composer has to slow down the iconic theme to make it more dark and ambiguous. However in Ghostbuster: Afterlife it is rather the opposite. We do hear the iconic Ghostbuster song performed by Ray Parker Junior until the film’s credits. Now not only does this make this reboot refreshing and make the nostalgia hit harder, but it also breaks the typical trope of classic film reboots as I said earlier.
The question at the beginning was whether this franchise has more life in it or more death, but truthfully, it’s neither; Ghostbusters: Afterlife exists somewhere closer to limbo, where it neither instills a renewing sense of life, nor a dreaded feeling of death; it simply, is.